6 Ways to Prioritize Physical and Mental Health in the Workplace

A diverse, active lifestyle can be the key to both physical and mental wellness. Incentivizing your employees to get moving can provide lasting benefits to them and to your company.

6 min read

We all know that we feel better when we exercise. Exercise improves our physical health, reducing the risk of hypertension, cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, and diabetes. Exercise can also help improve our mental health. Studies show that even small amounts of exercise can improve symptoms of depression and anxiety.

However, knowing that something is good for you and actually doing it are two different things. According to the CDC, Americans’ inadequate level of physical activity contributes to “$117 billion in annual health care costs.” Additionally, inactivity contributes to 1 in 10 of America’s premature deaths.

Also, the way we live and work has changed. Sedentary occupations have increased 10 percent over the past two decades. And with about eight hours spent at work every day, it is vastly important for employers and employees to integrate exercise into the workday.

An analysis by the Rand Corporation suggests that increasing physical activity could increase the global GDP by up to $760 billion by 2050. The same analysis suggests that, by 2050, a physically active populous could save up to $20.6 billion in healthcare expenditures.

This article will suggest ways companies can help their employees increase their physical activity to boost their mental health, physical health, and overall wellbeing.

Mental and Physical Benefits of Exercise

The benefits of physical activity can reach nearly every aspect of our lives.

Examples of these benefits include the following:

Improved mood

After you take a walk, the day’s stressors just seem to melt away, don’t they? Even moderate amounts of exercise can release endorphins, lift your mood, and reduce symptoms of depression. It can also lead to greater confidence and increased social interaction.

Alleviation of anxiety

Exercise — particularly aerobic exercise — is effective at keeping anxiety at bay. In addition to providing relief from anxiety in the moment, long-term exercisers are less likely to develop anxiety disorders in the first place.

Lowering the chance of disease

As we age, we must consider how our actions contribute to our overall health. Engaging in physical activity can help prevent the development of ailments and illnesses like high blood pressure, colon cancer, and diabetes.

Developing muscle tone and reducing obesity

Regular exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight by increasing your metabolism, burning extra calories, and increasing muscle mass. By building muscle, you’re not only getting stronger and reducing the risk of injury, but you’re also improving joint health and reducing the risk of osteoporosis.

How Employee Wellness Benefits Businesses

Regular physical activity unquestionably benefits those doing the exercise. But the benefits of exercise can extend far beyond the exerciser. Businesses that encourage employee health and wellness can see concrete benefits that improve company culture, interpersonal relationships, and much more.

  1. Exercise improves brain function. According to a 2020 study of university students, physical activity is associated with improved “executive function” of the brain, including cognitive control and mental flexibility.  A separate study from 2022 found that on days when older adults (50 to 74 years old) exercised, their brain function improved, showing a linear, correlated relationship between physical activity and cognition. As explained by the principal investigator of the study, Raeanne Moore, PhD: “The future of lifestyle interventions really needs to be remote-based. The pandemic has made this especially clear.” For businesses, that means empowering employees to exercise freely and prioritize self-improvement both inside and outside the office.
  2. Exercise spurs creativity. Ever had a brilliant idea while out for a walk? There’s science behind that. Individuals who exercise conceive more (and better!) ideas than those who are sedentary, claims a 2020 study. Scientists were even able to pin-point how key, idea-generating functions like originality and fluency were “positively and independently” associated with physical activity.
  3. Exercise reduces workplace absences due to illness. One 2019 study found that each weekly hour of physical activity decreased sick days by 1.2 days per year.
  4. Exercise combats burnout. Everyone feels tired at the end of the day, but prolonged over-working is deeply unsustainable in the modern workplace. Workplace burnout can hamstring your employees, leading to mental exhaustion and, potentially, resignation. According to a 2021 study exercise can combat these symptoms. Even “a single bout of acute aerobic exercise” can support “regeneration of cognitive flexibility performance and of subjective well-being.”

Ways to Prioritize Physical and Mental Health in the Workplace

It’s estimated that one-third of our lives are spent at work. But that doesn’t mean that those hours need to be sedentary. Here are some ideas for how to get employees to move their bodies and boost their mood.

Help employees address musculoskeletal pain (MSK)

MSK, such as lower back pain, causes more lost workdays and more healthcare expenditures than any other chronic condition. Approximately 1.71 billion people have musculoskeletal conditions worldwide, and the longer they suffer with chronic pain, the more at-risk they are to develop mental health issues. Thankfully, there are personalized, digital options like Kaia’s multimodal approach that can help employees get and stay moving, leading to increased mobility and improved quality of life.

Listen to employees with disabilities

If your company has employees with disabilities, commit to maintaining open dialogue with them to learn how they can feel their best, both physically and mentally, at work. Experts agree that removing obstacles for disabled workers could strengthen the U.S. labor market. And when these talented individuals are given a platform to express their needs, they will feel seen, heard, and appreciated. Your company will also be rewarded with a robust, diverse workforce.

Promote regular meditation

As noted by Mental Health America: “Meditation can benefit people who have mental health conditions, as well as those who do not.” Whether members of your team are dealing with workplace-related stress or more serious conditions like depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, PTSD, or ADHD, meditation can be an invaluable tool for anyone. And while this ancient practice may be a foreign concept for some workers, employers can promote and normalize meditation by bringing in an expert to educate or creating a mental health portal to offer guided meditations online.

Loan out bikes for lunchtime or commuting

Invest in company bikes that can be loaned out to employees for commuting or to ride during the lunch hour. If that’s not in your budget, consider providing a small stipend to individuals who bike to work — similar to a public transportation benefit. Between the endorphins and the camaraderie, bicycling is a well-known way to boost your mental health.

Provide a stipend for physical activity

And while biking is a popular form of exercise, company bikes may leave some swimmers, runners, or other athletes feeling left out. For this reason, an increasing number of employers are providing health and wellness stipends for employees to use in the way that best suits their need for wellness. Employees can choose to use the stipend towards de-stressing hot yoga classes, new workout clothes, a gym membership, or whatever else directly supports their quest to feel good.

Allow workers 30 minutes of exercise on the clock

Exercise breaks are the new smoking break. Incentivize your employees to get their legs moving and their brains working by allowing them paid time to do it. Even a small movement break can contribute to increased concentration and brain fitness.


We often hear people talk about work-life balance and, ideally, each category should enrich the other. Research proves that a diverse, active lifestyle can be the key to both physical and mental wellness. And while it may seem difficult at first, incentivizing your employees to get moving will provide a lasting benefit to them and to your company. There’s deep joy in the search for mental and physical wellness. Lead your employees toward that path, and the benefits are innumerable.

Author: Ali Wilkinson

Ali Wilkinson is a lawyer and writer based in Portland, Oregon. She has been practicing law for over 15 years, working with clients across a wide range of specialties from accounting malpractice to victims’ rights.

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